Goochland County, Virginia native and Virginia Tech graduate Sarah E. Gilbert has won a significant legal malpractice verdict against her former lawyer over a medical malpractice case he filed on her behalf, which was twice dismissed due to procedural problems with the lawyer's court filings. Gilbert suffered a tragic injury to her spinal cord in 2004 during what should have been a routine procedure to correct scoliosis in her spine. The surgery occurred at Chippenham Hospital on Jahnke Road in Richmond, Virginia. Her parents (Gilbert was a minor at the time) hired prominent Washington, D.C. medical malpractice lawyer Barry J. Nace and his firm, Paulson & Nace, to pursue a medical malpractice claim against the doctor, orthopedic surgeon Susan E. Atkins.
According to Gilbert's complaint against Nace, four days before the statute of limitations expired, Nace filed a complaint against Dr. Atkins in the Circuit Court of the City of Richmond. Unfortunately, the complaint listed the wrong people as the plaintiffs. It listed Gilbert's parents as the plaintiffs, not Gilbert. The circuit court judge dismissed the complaint because it listed the wrong plaintiffs. Nace tried to correct the situation by filing a second complaint in the name of Gilbert, by her "next friends," her parents. That complaint, however, was not filed until after the statute of limitations expired and it, too, was dimissed.
In her legal malpractice claim against Nace, Gilbert claimed that he failed to perform the legal services he agreed to perform. The jury agreed with Gilbert, awarding her $4 Million in damages against Nace and his firm.
One interesting issue is whether the award should be reduced to $1.75 Million. At the time of her suit, that was the cap on damages in a medical malpractice case. Post trial briefs and motions from the parties on that issue are expected in the coming days. Whatever the outcome of those motions, an appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia is inevitable.